NATIONWIDE — In response to Walmart’s announcement today that the retail giant will require all customers to weak masks starting July 20th, Cyndi Murray, a United for Respect member and Walmart associate of 20 years released the following statement:
“Today’s announcement that Walmart will begin to mandate mask-wearing by customers is a step forward for public health and a crucial measure for bringing this pandemic to a close. It’s a clear victory for Walmart associates who have bravely spoken out about the conditions in our stores and the hundreds of thousands of associates who come face-to-face with the deadly virus each day. But why did it take more than three months and 130,000 deaths for Walmart to face up to the cost of this pandemic, and mask up for its customers, associates, and our communities?
“Retail associates have been on the frontline of this pandemic and demanding basic workplace protections from day one, while Walmart dragged its feet on everything from social distancing to PPE. Even now, Walmart associates have not received hourly hazard pay for putting their lives in jeopardy to keep shelves stocked and kitchen tables full. Hundreds of associates and customers, particularly in Black and brown communities, have needlessly been exposed to the virus due to Walmart’s profit over people mindset. And while this is an important measure for public health, this new policy will inevitably put retail associates in difficult and even dangerous situations. We need to hear directly from Walmart about how they plan to protect associates if customers refuse to comply with mask-wearing or take them off once in the stores.
“This is exactly why Walmart associates need to have a seat on the board. We know the bottom line is that masks work and they are crucial to keeping employees, customers, and our communities safe and healthy. If Walmart wants to protect its staff and play a leading role in mitigating the virus, it needs to do more.”
Background on Walmart’s Failure to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic:
In May, United for Respect and the Center for Popular Democracy released a comprehensive timeline detailing the consistent failure of Walmart’s executive team to properly manage the COVID-19 crisis, despite early warnings. In some cases, Walmart took more than seven weeks after the CDC’s urging for employers to plan for social distancing to announce limits on the number of customers permitted in stores; even still, recent store closures and outbreaks reveal Walmart still fails to properly enforce social distancing.
A survey of 1500 associates nationwide conducted by United for Respect found that only 9% of respondents were able to always maintain at least six feet distance from other people while at work during the month of April. Only 2 in 5 associates said they trust Walmart to keep them, their coworkers, and customers safe during the COVID-19 crisis. Interviews with associates reported lack of protective equipment and insufficient time to clean. Many said that enhanced overnight cleaning is not happening at their stores.
Walmart has not disclosed how many associates have contracted and died from COVID-19. The corporation’s lack of transparency and failure to protect employees, customers and the public pushed associates who are member-leaders of United for Respect to take matters into their own hands and create a COVID-19 tracker and lobby stakeholders to support a proposal that would allow Walmart associates a seat at the decision-making table. The tracker allows associates to crowd-source information and report cases so coworkers and communities are always informed of store conditions and potential outbreaks. As of July 15, the tracker has collected 860 COVID-19 reports from associates.
Despite the heightened risk Walmart employees face by continuing to serve Walmart’s customers, and staggering $10 billion revenue growth due to pandemic-related spikes, CEO Doug McMillon has failed to institute hourly hazard pay. Associates have called for hazard pay at 1.5 times their hourly pay as baseline compensation for the risk and sacrifice taken. Walmart’s recent COVID-19 related cash bonuses (averaging about $19 a week for part-time associates and $37 for full time) are about half as much as the $2 an hour raises Walmart’s competitors (including Target, Amazon and Costco) provided to their employees. Those companies also have a higher base wage of $15 an hour in 2020, compared to Walmart at $11 an hour.